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Regional homeless shelter a worthy goal

As local communities struggle to respond to the homeless crisis, addressing the problems has come to resemble a game of whack-a-mole: Push campers off the Greenway and out of Hawthorne Park, and they take up residence across from City Hall. Nudge them out of downtown, and they move into nearby residential neighborhoods.

Hope Village took some of the pressure off, but in its initial stage, the tiny-house development accommodates fewer than 20 people. City officials recently approved adding 16 units between the existing 14. But that’s still far short of the need.

In winter, the Kelly Shelter in the basement of First United Methodist Church gave 50 people a warm place to sleep. Again, it helped, to a point.

Now, social-service agency ACCESS Inc. is spearheading discussion of a large, regional shelter. If the various entities that serve the homeless can band together and find a suitable location, the idea has promise.

Rather than multiple small organizations launching a warming shelter here, a tiny-house village there and a feeding program somewhere else, pooling resources could benefit from economies of scale to go much further toward a long-term solution. And that does not mean a shelter that becomes a permanent home for a permanent underclass of people. ACCESS Executive Director Pam Norr is talking about a regional shelter that provides not just housing but case managers to help people find jobs and secure permanent housing.

Norr notes that would require collaboration between agencies such as Rogue Retreat that already provide services for the homeless, as well as churches, city governments and other groups. That can be more complicated than it sounds. Private, nonprofit social-service agencies don’t always see eye-to-eye on policies and operating philosophy. And government grant funding often comes with strings attached.

Then there is the question of location. It’s easy to get support for a concept like a regional homeless shelter in the abstract, but opposition from neighbors is virtually guaranteed as soon as a specific site is proposed.

As we noted in this space last December, Klamath Falls created a campus that incorporated a 60-unit housing facility along with a variety of assistance and training organizations to help residents develop life skills and find jobs. Something similar could work here, too.

A regional shelter won’t magically solve the problem of homelessness once and for all. There are too many obstacles, including alcohol and drug addiction and a certain percentage of homeless people who are simply not interested in permanent housing or in following rules in order to get it.

But if the resources and energy now being expended on small-scale projects scattered throughout the area could be combined in one regional operation, it would be a major improvement over where we are now.